Why we need emoji representing people with disabilities

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When Carrie Wade first heard the news that Apple was proposing emojis to represent people with disabilities, she was happy, and then she was curious about the types of emojis that had occurred to Apple. Wade has cerebral palsy and works at the American Association of People with Disabilities. Finally, emoji made specifically for people like her felt like an important step forward.
"Of course there are going to be people who say this does not matter and it does not matter," Wade told The Verge. "But this is one of those instances of small-scale media representation that is there now and that was not there before." That kind of progress is always good. "She was also" pleasantly surprised "to see the emoji of the service dog.
Apple presented a proposal for the 13 new emoji to the Unicode Consortium a couple of weeks ago; they include an arm and leg prosthesis, hearing aids, as well as people who use sign language and a wheelchair. The emojis were well received, although several people in the community pointed out that they are just a starting point.

"Actually, when we look at diversity among disabilities, this is part of the community, but not of all," says Rachel Byrne, vice president of projects and programs at the Cerebral Palsy Foundation. But, he adds, "it's wonderful to have diversity within the emojis." (In his proposal, Apple acknowledged that emojis "are not meant to be a complete list").
Apple worked with the Foundation for Cerebral Palsy, as well as with the American Council of the Blind and the National Association of the Deaf, to develop emoji. Ideas bounced and the results are exciting, according to Tony Stephens, director of advocacy and government affairs at the American Council of the Blind.
Stephens says he is excited that emoji includes a person with a white cane, the universal symbol for the blind, instead of a person wearing sunglasses, which is more of a stereotype. Having a white cane emoji can also help educate people about what the cane means, so that drivers can pay more attention when they see a pedestrian using one. "Awareness of the diversity of people who use smartphones these days," he says.
Representation has long been a problem in the media. Movies and TV shows often resort to stereotypes when it comes to characters with disabilities: often blind people with intensified senses are presented, such as better hearing, says Stephens. Disability is also often related to the tragedy on the screen, says Wade.
"This represents part of the community, but not of everyone."
There have been improvements lately: Stephens points to an M & T Bank ad casually including a blind woman with a guide dog, while Byrne mentions the Speechless television show. But there is still a long way to go, and Apple's emojis are a step in the right direction. "Having access and inclusion of all types is a priority in technology is a big problem," says Wade, "so I hope, in any small way, that this indicates progress and also just means that people can have fun and have more options of how they express themselves ".
While we wait for the emoji to be approved, which could happen as early as this month, The Verge spoke with Wade about what she thinks of emojis, how they can be improved and why they are important.
The interview has been slightly edited and condensed for clarity.
What do you think of the emoji?
I think it's a great development. The Emojis are a kind of emerging language, especially among younger generations, so it's always good to see those types of progress, be more inclusive and not be the same icons we've all seen since we were 12 years old. and first starting on the internet. Of course, there are deficiencies: the disability is too large to be completely encapsulated in any type of emoji. But I thought it was good that those deficiencies were recognized in advance. So, although there is certainly room for improvement, I am excited to see this progress. We hope that everything is approved and well received and used frequently, so that future inclusion that was not part of this first round is possible in the future.
What are the deficiencies?
There are certain disabilities that are largely invisible, which can be difficult to illustrate exactly for that reason, [like] any type of chronic illness, psychiatric disability, developmental disabilities. The community of people with disabilities is large and there are people with disabilities in all other demographic groups. Disability is not only seen in a way, it not only feels in a way, it does not manifest in a way in someone's body or mind. So broadening the definition of disability beyond apparent physical disabilities to include a wider range … is definitely a progress we need everywhere, including emoji options and technology communication.
"Disability is not only seen in one way".
Why is it important to have emoji that represents people with disabilities?
This is a language that more and more people use to communicate with each other every day, and the idea that there are real people represented in emojis means that each community of people should be represented. People might argue that it's not so important to have a disabled emoji versus a character in a TV show, but I think it's important because people my age and younger – I'm 29 years old – are using these things to communicate with each other. all the time. It's like a second language on our phones and I think not to see you represented there, it says a lot.
What are the biggest challenges to get representation in the media?
I believe that the greatest challenges with representation [have to do with] are a kind of stigma and a lack of understanding of what disability means in people's lives. So far, there has been a unilateral illustration of what a disability can mean for your life: the vast majority of media, although they are changing, have had this tragic element and assume that everything else that is happening in your life, if you have a disability, at some level you should be sad about it. As someone with a permanent disability, I fully understand those feelings. There is a certain level of frustration and difficulty that comes with having a disability. But I think having double media in this tragic narrative really makes us the rest of us, real people with disabilities in the world, a great disservice.
There are different ways of seeing disability that are not based on tragedy. People who create media that are not necessarily super-inclusive; It's not that they do not have a good meaning, it's just that they do not have a very holistic and comprehensive vision of what disability means. These problems can be corrected in part by hiring more disabled people, both behind and in front of the camera, as creators and artists. I would say that changing the voices in the room can make the inclusion of disability more a priority from the start. The Emojis in their own way are an illustration of that and there is certainly room to move on after this. But I think it's a great effort to start.


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